Kingdoms and dynasties rose & fell but Patna remained tall

Patna, like Delhi, had been the seat of governance for successive kingdoms since ancient times. Patna has been known by various names from ancient times as each ruler who ascended to power gave his capital a new name. In modern times, city leaders have to work hard to attain the city’s lost glory. The city has to transfer itself into a hub of innovation, industry and employment to trigger reverse migration to the State and boasts itself as a city that can give a boost to the image of Bihar

Here, Kingdom after Kingdom rose and fell, leaving their indelible mark on history. Rival kings fought legendary battles that left the land and the people devastated. Yet, by some strange alchemy, the same land saw the birth and maturity of some of the most gentle and progressive religious teachers like the Buddha, Mahavira and Guru Gobind Singh. Then came the rule of the Moghuls for five centuries, and finally it was ruled by ever-expanding colonization of the English who ruled till the mid 20th century.

A blend of old and new

Bihar today is a quaint interface of the old and new and so is Patna. I will come back to the glorious history of this city but first, let’s talk about present-day Patna. Like any other capital city, it attracts people from across the state and the process of urbanization is visible. According to 2011 census, Patna’s population was about 17 lakhs and a rough estimate suggests by now it must have crossed 20 lakhs. That makes Patna’s urban agglomeration India’s 18th largest.
But unlike other big cities, here the population living in slums is roughly 0.25 per cent making Patna the city with the lowest percentage of slum-dwellers in India. But like other fast-growing cities in the developing world, Patna suffers from major urbanisation problems including unemployment, poor public health and poor civic and educational standards for a large section of the population.
Pollution is another big problem. I visited the city last month and saw big changes. There is huge construction activity taking place, a lot of new flyovers with some areas having changed so much that I could not identify them. But the city has a long way to go before it makes a mark on the livability index.
Sujeet Kumar Jha, a senior journalist and someone who has lived in the city for more than two decades says “life and landscape of the city have completely changed.
In a sense, it has become more cosmopolitan in nature but the problems of the state reflect in the city too”.

Trying to inculcate a sense of pride

When you visit the newly built and opened Bihar Museum in Patna you read the watchword “Bridge to the past; Gateway to the future”. The idea of the government is to celebrate Bihar’s ancient past and inculcate a sense of pride in the modern day ’Biharis’. But the irony is that while a museum has been built, in the process, a chapter of Bihar’s heritage has been dissolved. Author and historian Salila Kulshreshtha says ‘After all, the core collection of the new museum has been built by appropriating the most prized artefacts of the historic Patna Museum such as the Didarganjyakshini, Kurkihar bronzes and 18th century Daniell prints. The new Bihar Museum has been constructed by tearing down older heritage structures. The land for the new museum was acquired by demolishing at least five colonial-style bungalows, which were built on Bailey Road sometime in the early 1900s. Salila says “While the Lutyens bungalows in New Delhi, which were built later, have been protected by heritage laws, the bungalows in Patna which were designed by the Australian architect J.F. Munnings did not receive the same consideration. This clearly reflects the current government’s understanding of what constitutes heritage and is hence worthy of being preserved”.
Historians and architects will debate it out with the government. But there is no denying the fact that this place has great historical significance. The city is located along the bank of Ganga and the history and heritage of the city which we know as Patna today is more than two thousand years. Patna, like Delhi, had been the seat of governance for successive kingdoms since ancient times. Patna has been known by various names from ancient times as each ruler who ascended to power gave his capital a new name. Thus the ancient Kusumpura changed to Pushpapura, then Patliputra, Azimabad and lastly Patna. Its history dates back to the
6th century BC, a record very few cities created in the world can match. It is said the Magadh King Ajatashatru first built a small fort on the bank of River Ganga in the 6th century BC and then it kept blossoming and this ancient glory can still be seen at archaeological sites of Kumrahar, Agamkuan, Bhikhnapahari, Bulandi Bagh, and Kankarbagh. Pataliputra dominated the political landscape of what we today know as North India for more than a thousand years from 6th century BC to 5th century AD. Then it fell off the political map for centuries till Sher Shah Suri came and established Patna in the 16th century. The British too, after the decline of Mughal rule, found Patna a convenient regional capital and built a modern extension called Bankipore. It was at Gandhi Maidan in this area that Mahatma Gandhi held his prayer meetings.

Literary traditions

While Bihar has produced many great authors and poets from Vidyapati, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar to Baba Nagarjuna to name a few, their writings have been mostly in Hindi and Maithili. Hindi is the language mostly spoken in the State so it’s nothing unusual. People from the state are even mocked for their English accent and there is a perception, right or wrong, that their English is poor. But you will be surprised to know that the first book in English ever written by an Indian was by a ‘Bihari’. Sake Dean Mahomed was born in 1759 in Patna. His first book ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomed’ was published in 1794. Prof of History, Michael H Fisher of Oberlin College, Ohio has written a book on Mahomed titled ‘The First Indian Author in English: Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) in India, Ireland, and England’ So don’t be taken aback; ‘Biharis’ are quite capable of throwing a surprise at you when least expected. Last but not the least, the city is well connected by air and rail network from all parts of the country. The only problem is that trains are always too crowded and air traffic has increased sharply. The airport is always cramped and you might not get a seat while waiting to board your plane because the waiting area is too small and seats are few.

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